- Despite scientists' optimism about the possibility of
developing an AIDS vaccine, the world is "not ready" to make
and distribute such a vaccine should it become available soon, according
to Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative
- "Most of the decisions that need to be taken to
get the world ready for a vaccine are political rather than scientific.
The manufacture and distribution of the vaccine are issues of political
will," Berkley told delegates at the World Economic Forum's Africa
Summit in Durban yesterday(thurs).
- "Vaccines are developed on the basis of empirical
science. While there are no perfect animal models, we know that we can
fully protect primates (from Simian Immuno-Deficiency Virus). We also know
that some people have immune protection from HIV despite having been repeatedly
exposed to it.
- "So the scientific community believes an AIDS vaccine
is a possibility," said Berkley. "But access to the vaccine is
an issue of policy not science."
- One AIDS vaccine candidate is in final phase (phase III)
trials, and the results will be known within six months. The results of
another phase III trial will be known in two to three years, while the
results of a third phase III trial will be known in about five to six years'
- "But if one of these works, will we have the manufacturing
and distribution capacity and the regulatory frameworks to reach the people
they need to as soon as possible?" asked Berkley, adding that during
the course of the three-day summit 45 000 people worldwide would have been
infected with HIV.
- In the past, vaccines had taken 15 to 20 years to reach
those who needed them in the developing world, and this was "unacceptable",
- Dr Tim Tucker, head of South Africa's Vaccine Initiative
(SAVI), described ensuring access to the AIDS vaccine as "the greatest
ethical challenge of our time".
- "South Africa will start human trials in 2003. We
have a mandate from Cabinet, the trial facilities, laboratories, dedicated
ethics groups, community education and mobilisation groups," said
- "But we need to strengthen our financial base. Manufacturing
costs are significant. Distribution issues are complex and challenging.
We want to ensure that there is not the division in distribution between
the developed and developing world with the AIDS vaccine that we have seen
with anti-retroviral drugs and every other vaccine."
- Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane urged government to "use
faith-based organisations to prepare communities for a vaccine".
- "We have a presence in every square inch of this
country, and in SADC as well," said Ndungane. "Our core business
is care and compassion."
- Other delegates suggested tax incentives for businesses
who invested in vaccine research, which is far more costly and less profitable
than drug development.
- Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said legislatures
could also play an important role as representatives had "direct links
with the constituencies that have elected them".